Every generation has a new set of rising stars. This time around, one of the leading prospects is Amanda Bynes, a peppy actress who's got energy, charm and strong comedic skills. However, all of these stars must eventually grow up, and I think it's reached that point for Bynes, who deserves better than predictable, by-the-numbers comedies like "What a Girl Wants".
Bynes plays Daphne Reynolds, a 17-year-old who has spent her life wondering about her long-lost father. Her mother, Libby (Kelly Preston) was (and still is) a free spirit, now living with her daughter in a New York City apartment and playing cover songs at weddings. She tells her daughter about meeting her father and the quick marriage, but his high-society family didn't think she was a right fit, and prompted her return to America.
One day, Daphne (who has apparently saved up an enormous amount of money) takes off, catching a plane to London to finally meet her father, Sir Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), who is now a high-profile policitican. Of course, a culture clash ensues, with Daphne teaching the upper class how to "loosen up". There's the necessary "villians" of the piece - Henry's near-future wife, Glynnis (Anna Chancellor), her daughter and Henry's adviser (Jonathan Pryce), who was the one to send Libby away all those years ago. Of course, a struggling musician named Ian (Oliver James) is thrown into the mix as a love interest for Daphne.
One can probably tell where this is going from the description. It's a cinderella story that takes from hundreds of other prior tales, yet the cast does a fine job making the material work at least moderately well. Bynes is a charming actress, able to do comedy well and take a pratfall like few others. Other talents offering energetic efforts include Firth and Preston, while Pryce does his best to make a effective villian.
Technically, this is also a solid piece, with lovely scope cinematography from "Gosford Park"'s Andrew Dunn, pleasant use of score and soundtrack and attractive locations. The only mis-step is the opening credits, which look unfinished. Overall, this is a cute and good-natured comedy; it's got some slow spots and it's awfully formulaic, but it passes the time enjoyably. Movies like this have their place, but hopefully, some of this film's audience will try "Whale Rider", a far more empowering and magical tale for the same age range, which is currently in theaters.
VIDEO: "What a Girl Wants" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality throughout the presentation is above-average, as the few flaws spotted don't really take away from Andrew Dunn's rich, vivid cinematography. Sharpness and detail seemed consistently rock-solid, as the picture appeared well-defined throughout, and often had a very pleasing depth to the image. Fine details into the background were often seen in the image.
That said, a few issues did come up throughout the presentation. Most of the movie was free of edge enhancement, but some minor amounts did appear in a couple of scenes. A few scenes also showed a speck or two on the print and some slight grain. No compression artifacts or other faults were noticed. Colors appeared bright, well-saturated and clean, with no smearing or other faults. While not quite flawless, this was a very fine transfer from Warner Brothers.
SOUND: "What a Girl Wants" is presented by Warner Brothers in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is a very fine soundtrack that exceeds the kind of expectations that one might have for a lightweight comedy like this. Sound effects are presented by the surrounds on a moderately frequent basis, while the score and soundtrack gets nice reinforcement from the rear speakers. Audio quality is first-rate, as both score and sound effects have a full, dynamic sound. Dialogue also remained crisp and clear. Although it'll never be confused with an action movie, it's nice to find that the filmmakers chose to open up the soundtrack a bit.
EXTRAS: Two commentaries are offered - one by actress Amanda Bynes, the other by director Dennie Gordon and screenwriters Jenny Bicks and Elizabeth Chandler. The two commentaries are lightweight, but somewhat enjoyable. Bynes cheerfully recalls stories from the set and experiences during filmmaking, as well as a few tidbits about the production. However, she does spend a lot of time talking about how wonderful everyone was and also, does some "narration" of the story. The other commentary has a bit more information about the production, but its participants also do tend to lose focus and fall back to talking about the story, too.
Also: Featurette on costume design, 1 minute and 40 seconds of deleted scenes, interactive game on the film's outfits, theatrical trailer.
Final Thoughts: Cute, lightweight and often moderately charming, "What a Girl Wants" succeeds as well as it does thanks to a fine cast. However, despite some good moments, everyone here is deserving of better material. Warner Brothers offers a fine presentation on this DVD edition, with very good audio/video and a few entertaining supplements. Rent it.
The Film ** 1/2